CHENNAI: On June 28, 1969, in the wee hours, Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, New York, was raided by the police; the third such raid (of a gay bar) in a few months. However, unlike the other arrests, there was no scattering or cooperation this time, but a retaliation from the queer community. A fightback that marked a turning point for the LGBTQIA+ community, cementing June as the Pride month. Over the years, celebration and awareness of queer identities began to mushroom during this month in several cities around the world, one such city being Chennai (albeit a little later).
In 2009, NGOs, organisations working with the LGBTQIA+, individuals and supporters joined forces to form the Chennai Rainbow Coalition, which soon became the Tamil Nadu Rainbow Coalition with participation from Coimbatore, Madurai, Kumbakonam and more, informs L Ramakrishnan of SAATHII and one of the early volunteers with the Coalition.
“This is an informal network of groups that gets together to organise Pride events. One or more groups collaborate to organise various events, but one that the entire Coalition contributes and hosts is the Chennai Pride March,” he adds. Already one week into Pride month, after two years of hindrance from the pandemic, the Tamil Nadu Rainbow Coalition, in association with several organisations, is back in full swing with an assortment of events.
“While we host LGBTQIA+ events all year, there are many more in June. It is a chance for us to prove ourselves to the community, parents and more and a month to celebrate ourselves. There is more conversation and more dialogue delivery in June. We have sensitisation and awareness events, but we also have film screenings, poetry readings, cultural events, and the pride parade. While we celebrate it in Chennai this month, there are other states that conduct Pride marches on other months,” shares Jaya, general manager of Sahodaran and another early member of the Coalition.
“Over the past two years, there have been major developments (for the LGBTQIA+ rights movement) such as the landmark order by Madras High Court Justice Anand Venkatesh about non-exclusion and non-discrimination against the community by the judiciary, lawyers, healthcare institutions and education system. The Tamil Nadu government has also reconstituted their transgender welfare board and for the first time in history, it includes transmen as well.
So, the Pride march and the Pride events will partly celebrate this. But, there are also a lot of gaps and work to be done; so, these are occasions to draw visibility to the continued harassment of queer people by biological families. There was a huge escalation of family violence in the pandemic since many lost their jobs and were forced to go home; so, there are some things to celebrate and some things to continually agitate about and use the forum of Pride (to talk about it),” elaborates Ramakrishnan.
It seems there is a lot to cover that was missed in the past two years because the event schedule is even spilling into July. Some events are open to the public, including discussions, workshops, festivals, cultural programmes, sensitisation and awareness events, while others are closed for the general public. That being said, there is much to explore in the coming weeks in Chennai and Coimbatore.
What’s in store?
Like the workshop ‘Coming Out with Alex and SwethaShri’ on June 11, organised by Thozhi, in collaboration with Orinam collective in Chennai. Open to all, the workshop will discuss several aspects of coming out with community members. “We’ll talk about what coming out is, if it is a choice or compulsory, if it is necessary and more.
There is a lot of crises we have seen, which arises from coming out; so, we’ll discuss what things went wrong or right and share some points about families accepting the LGBTQIA+. We are hoping that people get some insights on coming out. It is a turning point for any sexuality or gender minority and so we hope to make that turning point a positive one,” explains SwethaShri from Orinam.The workshop will also be followed by a panel discussion and individual stories — happy and sad. SwethaShri adds that she hopes it can give parents (who may be unconvinced) some idea of how to understand their child.
On June 12, a panel discussion with lawyers on recent developments in LGBTQIA+ laws, policies, and court verdicts will be hosted. Where these events attempt to inform about and catalyse much-needed discussions, there are others that provide a platform for the community’s skills and talents. On June 18, TamilNadu LGBTIQ Movement, Sahodaran and Kattiyakkari will organise ‘Seven Colors: Chennai Art Festival 2.0’, where members of the community will showcase their artistic projects.
“By art, we mean dances, music, theatre plays, fashion illustrations, drawings, and handicrafts (that will be on sale). Through the cultural and awareness event, we want to create a connect between the public and the community. We are very excited about the event; we have been organising for the past 10 years but everything has been online in the past two years (during Pride month) due to the pandemic. There has also been a lot of relocation by people in the community due to jobs and their home situations,” says Sharan Karthick Raj of TamilNadu LGBTIQ Movement.
Other upcoming events include a poetry and spoken word performance, cultural performance event, consent workshop, sexual health event and of course, the 14th Chennai Pride/Self-Respect Walk on June 26 (the last Sunday of the month). This time, the community is on the hunt for a venue, one that awards them more visibility.
“From 2009-2022, the numbers at the march have grown exponentially. The first year, we had 500 people. The next year, we had maybe a 1,000. We began getting supporters, parents, family, corporates, organisation and as the numbers increased, so did visibility. Now, we are looking for a location that will get more attention from the general public. If a grandmother or grandfather wants to see who they (the paraders) are, why are they doing this, what placards are they holding, (they should be able to see), otherwise change won’t happen,” Jaya concludes. Whether this comes true is yet to be seen. Till then, there is much to immerse yourself in!
What to expect
Some events are open to the public, like discussions, workshops, festivals, cultural programmes, sensitisation & awareness events, while others are closed for the general public. The events will be held in Chennai and Coimbatore.